Kazakhstan has been closely linked to China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) since President Xi Jinping first announced the initiative in Astana in 2013. In the following seven years, Xi has met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on numerous occasions to pledge the enhancement of cooperation. These talks have largely been focused on transport, transit and logistics. One of the projects which has received significant media attention is Khorgos. The Kazakh and Chinese governments have regularly touted the transformation of this former Soviet outpost on the Kazakh-Chinese border into an international trade and logistics hub complete with the world’s largest dry port.
However, when I visited Khorgos in late November 2019, it seemed far from the ‘New Dubai’ which Kazakh, Chinese and international media alike have heralded Khorgos to be. Other researchers I spoke to who had visited in recent months held similar impressions, and further research into the figures suggests that China is overreporting the cargo which transits the dry port. COVID-19 has brought new challenges to this key SREB project, the Kazakh side of which was closed from January to March 2020. Nevertheless, the Kazakh Invest National Company retains a positive outlook for the future of Khorgos, suggesting that this ‘central station on the New Silk Road’ will be even more important in a post-COVID world. As the global effects of the pandemic continue to unfold, Khorgos will remain an important project to watch for the future of SREB in general.
Dana Rice is a research scholar at CAIS. She completed her BA Honours at the University of Tasmania and the European University in Saint Petersburg. Dana is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of ENERPO (Energy Politics of Eurasia) Journal and Senior Editor of Politikon: IAPSS Journal of Political Science. She is an intern at the Australian Institute of International Affairs involved in organising their planned delegation to Central Asia and their current Silk Road webinar series. Her research interests include the Belt and Road Initiative, the Eurasian Economic Union and Sinophobia in Central Asia.
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